Imus, Sharpton, and the Racial Double Standard

By: Greg C. Reeson

This past weekend, when I took my family to a nearby amusement park, I noticed several t-shirts worn by park patrons that made me think about a racial double standard that exists in this country, one that was recently highlighted by the firing of radio and television host Don Imus.

Some of the t-shirts read as follows: “Black is Beautiful;” “The Blacker the College, the Sweeter the Knowledge;” “It’s a Black Thang;” and “Blacks do it Better.” I understand and respect and pride in one’s race and heritage, and generally have no problem with expressions of that respect and pride. But in light of the Imus incident and the Reverend Sharpton’s reply, I couldn’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been if the t-shirts had read “White is Beautiful;” “The Whiter the College, the Sweeter the Knowledge;” “It’s a White Thing;” or “Whites do it Better.”

While I can’t say with certainty what the response from most people would have been, I can hazard a guess. I suspect that the wearers of the shirts would have been labeled racists, and that they may have even been barred entry to the park. I say that confidently because a double standard does in fact exist in America when the discussion centers on race.

Let’s go back to the Don Imus case for a minute. What he said was irresponsible and probably indicative of racist and bigoted beliefs that have no place in modern society. He was rightly criticized and his employer decided he was not the image the company wanted to project. But what about Al Sharpton? As soon as the controversy over Imus’ remarks began, Sharpton was on television and radio demanding that Imus be fired and denouncing a culture of racism against blacks in America.

But Sharpton himself is guilty of making inflammatory comments that would be categorized as contemptuous of other races. Why is he entitled to criticize Imus and demand that he lose his job while getting a pass for himself after deriding “Jewish diamond merchants” and “white interlopers?” How can he call for racial equality while discriminating against non-blacks?

One other example underscores my point, and it involves the use of the “N-word.” When I was growing up, I asked a couple of African-American friends why it was okay for blacks to use the word, but it was considered racist for whites to do so. I was informed that blacks shared a bond, dating from the days of slavery and represented by the “N-word,” that non-blacks simply couldn’t understand. The use of the word by African-Americans was a recognition of a shared heritage that non-blacks could not be part of. Whatever the reason, the end result was a double standard that allowed some to use the word as a term of endearment or friendship, while others were prohibited from using the word for fear that they would be labeled racist.

Other examples from American life are readily available. “Support Black Businesses” is a theme often echoed by the African-American community. What if someone said “Support White Businesses?” Would they be labeled as racist? What about the United Negro College Fund? Would a United White College Fund escape scrutiny for discrimination or racism? What if the NBA was required to implement an affirmative action plan to help white players? Would there be an uproar from the citizenry?

I understand the argument that such measures are necessary to help level the playing field from generations of white dominance and the oppression of blacks. But when does it stop? When is the playing field considered level and who makes that determination? How can we be sure that the determination will be just? Without an end in sight, how can there be racial equality?

The existence of a racial double standard is detrimental to our society and to race relations in America. We cannot demand racial equality or a colorblind society while holding different races to non-equal standards. The only way to fix the racial divide in this country is to treat everyone equally. It must go both ways. Otherwise the Sharptons, and the David Dukes (who is equally divisive in his defense of white culture), of the world will continue to use race as a means for emphasizing our differences rather than working toward expanding our commonalities.

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